Not just an overnight success

TV Tonight sits down and apologises to Eric Stonestreet for the ARIAs and finds an actor who keeps his feet on the ground.

I can’t look at Eric Stonestreet without making an apology. After all, the guy has come all this way and he had to endure the ARIAs.

Despite not making it inside the Sydney Opera House, and having to smile all the way through Ricki Lee’s limp-wrist gags, he still managed to come across like a good sport.

On behalf of the nation, TV Tonight apologised.

Stonestreet was aware there was commentary on Ricki Lee’s wrist but says he hadn’t noticed it on the night.

“The joke of that bit was supposed to be that she didn’t realise I wasn’t actually gay. It’s not like the joke was that she couldn’t say the word ‘Gay,’ it was that she didn’t want to offend me,” he says.

“You have these people writing these things for you and you have as much say in them as you can. I added the bit in that I didn’t actually get inside the Opera House, which turned out to be what people were commenting on. It was on the steps of the place and not in the theatre.

“I thought ‘Presenting on the stage of the Sydney Opera House, how iconic is that?’ But I was on the steps… a big difference…

“But it’s all good. From my perspective it was a great night of music.”

Still a good sport. Despite his new-found success in Modern Family, Stonestreet strives to keep his feet on the ground.

Prior to his role as the exuberant Cameron in the new comedy, he was a jobbing actor on numerous TV and film projects: Nip / Tuck, Monk, Pushing Daisies, The Mentalist, Bones, Crossing Jordan, Greg the Bunny, CSI, The West Wing, Party of Five, Spin City, Malcolm in the Middle, ER, American Dad, Almost Famous, The Island, Girls will be Girls, The Drifter, This Might Hurt and more.

So what’s it like to become an ‘overnight star?’

“I don’t make that word up but if I have to throw myself into the definition of it then that’s sort of where we all are in the cast. We’re on TV’s pretty much hottest show right now,” he says.

“I don’t aspire, necessarily, to be a star. Everybody always said ‘Do you want to be famous or rich?’ My answer was always that I don’t necessarily have those as goals but if I’m as successful at acting as I want to be then those two things potentially can go along with them.”

Despite training in improvisation, Stonestreet spent many years doing dramatic roles while waiting for casting directors to get him auditions in comedy.

“It’s really interesting because most casting directors who hired me never knew I did comedy. So I feel like I have ‘revolving-ly’ surprised people. Most drama people didn’t know I did comedy and most comedy people didn’t know I did drama. It’s a dual life.”

Having worked on so many previous projects, Stonestreet says the moment he most relished was when Modern Family moved beyond Pilot stage.

“The highest I felt during the last year was the day the show got picked up. I’d jumped through the hoops to get a job so I knew what that feeling felt like, and then it’s out of your control.

“But for the show to get picked up and you’re able to say ‘Holy cow I’m going to be on the air for 13 weeks’ -unless it’s a huge colossal failure. People are going to see me work for 13 weeks. At the very least it’s going to help my career. It’s going to get me the next job if it fails.

“And then there was ‘back nine’ (episodes) happens and the extra two and the Emmy nomination and all that stuff happens and you think, ‘Ok there’s a little comfort here.'”

A little comfort? There was an Emmy win. Now he’s just being downright humble.

Modern Family scooped up at the Emmys, including as Most Outstanding Comedy and Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series for Stonestreet. Critics and audiences love the show’s mockumentary tone and the performances from the ensemble cast.

The role of gay partners Cameron and Mitchell have been embraced by the audience as much as the straight characters. If there has been any criticism, it was for the lack of a gay kiss between the two, which was addressed via an episode in which Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) has trouble with public displays of affection, inherited from his father Jay (Ed O’Neill).

“Ironically the controversy has been from the gay community and not from the straight community,” he admits.

“We just love that people care about the characters, Cameron and Mitchell. Did the Facebook campaign need to happen for them to kiss? It didn’t because the kiss was attached to a story that (writers) Chris (Lloyd) and Steve (Levitan) wanted to tell.

“People don’t understand that they look at the show like a chess game. They move people here so these characters can do this…they really do think that far ahead, and they couldn’t tell the story that they wanted to tell with Jay –which oddly enough was based on one of our writer’s own dads.

“I had a German grandma who, when I would hug her, would just stiffen. Not everyone is comfortable with affection, so they wanted to tell the story in the way they wanted to tell it.”

After his Australian visit to Sydney and Melbourne, Stonestreet returns to LA to resume filming, with three more episodes set to be filmed before Christmas.

“We all love, love, love those moments where we sit on the couch and talk to the camera. It’s so much fun,” he says.

“I love the little looks to the camera, inviting the audience in and saying to them ‘Don’t you relate to this moment like I do?'”

We do.

Modern Family airs 7:30pm Wednesdays on TEN and Season One is now available on DVD through Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

16 Responses

  1. @AJ That’s funny!

    David, what a terrific guy and a great interview. Thank you also for apologising for the ARIAs. Stonestreet does have a point!

    He was probably asked, “How would you like to present an award(while cross-promoting Modern Family) at the “night of nights” for the Australian Music Industry awards at the world famous Sydney Opera House”?

    Imagine the look on his face when he turned up and was told, no you’re not actually in the Opera House, you’re out the front on the steps. Then he had to suffer Ricki Lee and the debacle of the ARIAs. What a true professional Stonestreet is to remain so positive.

  2. Great interview! Eric is such a lovely guy and he had fun in Sydney (and Melbourne). To show how nice he was, he actually left six gifts at a cafe he liked in The Rocks for his twitter followers! All one had to do was order something and say the word ‘casablanca’ (LOL) and they would get one of his prizes. What a fantastically cool and funny idea! I dunno what he left but it was probably a Modern Family DVD if I were to guess. And he never once complained about the ARIA awards either, at least he didn’t on Twitter. In fact he said he enjoyed them.

    P.S. I rewatched his small role on The Mentalist from the first season (episode two) and he was excellent! He wasn’t at all funny in it either.

  3. What were these limp wrist gags? I didn’t watch the ARIAs (pop music is rubbish these days) It sounds cringeworthy…

    As for the interview nice job Eric seems like a great guy and he’s definately a brilliant actor. I didn’t care much at the start but now I love Modern Family! I’m also watching Eric in some old CSI eps at the moment.

  4. Great interview! Modern Family is the best new show of the year. The writing is superb and the cast brilliant – not one cast member who I don’t like.

    And it’s great to see that in America it’s ratings are rising. It’s gained about 2 million viewers this year and is regularly in the top 5 for the 18-49 demo, often the highest rating scripted show for 18-49’s.

    Maybe it will do better in Australia now it’s on Wednesdays, not that it was doing badly – just not as high as the 1.6 it was getting Tuesdays after MasterChef.

  5. Great interview, David. He brings tears to my eyes on the show, He is both hilarious, touching and ironically a gay icon! His imperfections are so humanely written and performed. He so deserved the Emmy. Fizbo is a classic ep. I hope that Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Rico Rodriguez get to share the Emmy love over the coming years. I can see Modern Family getting to 7 or more seasons. Stonestreet was great on 7pm Project, and it seems a man of grace and charm. Modern Family the Best show of 2010!

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